Do not believe those online sites that claim to know, and disclose, the HIV status of Filipinos.
This, in a gist, is the lesson to be learned when coming across Internet-based communications activities contrary to policies and provisions of Republic Act 8504 (or Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998), which – among others – protects the right to privacy of Filipinos living with HIV with non-disclosure of their status.
In a letter received by Outrage Magazine from @dvocateHIV, he complained about another Website that claims to know of Filipino men who are HIV-positive. Making use of the accounts of some men from hook-up site PlanetRomeo.com, this Website includes the usernames and photographs of these men whose reputations are being attacked.
“It wasn’t long ago when a student’s picture came out on Facebook and he was accused (to be) HIV-positive. (Since) the logo of AIDS Society of the Philippines was on the picture, (it) stirred so much attention. Was it because of the logo? Was it because of the recognizable school uniform of the guy in the picture? Was it simply a human rights violation?” wrote @dvocateHIV, adding that “we don’t need any one of those whose pictures (that) were shown to come out.”
As early as August 2011, the Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC) – which oversees the country’s integrated and comprehensive AIDS prevention and control program; and in particular, the implementation of R.A. 8504 – released an advisory to Outrage Magazine after it received (beginning late July 2011) complaints on Internet-based communications activities contrary to policies and provisions of the law. In the advisory, the PNAC secretariat confirmed that “individuals or groups behind these activities blatantly disregarded rights to privacy of persons perceived, suspected or living with HIV.”
“This advisory primarily cautions online audiences on sources that propagate false, misleading claims, misinform deliberately or otherwise, espouse violation of privacy rights, breach medical confidentiality, and misrepresent legitimate organizations and lawful activities and practices,” PNAC stated.
The PNAC secretariat is rallying “all national response partners to remain vigilant in monitoring and detecting similar occurrences,” as “it assures affected parties of the recent incidents that the council and the Department of Health (DOH) are now working on ways to resolve the situation and mitigate similar future incidents.”
However, two years after the PNAC advisory was released, PNAC and the DOH have yet to make known ways for those affected to resolve this issue. Instead, they only ask “content producers who made publications that violated provisions of R.A. 8504… to voluntarily withdraw all offending information immediately.”
For Michael David C. Tan, publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, which also has HIV-related advocacy efforts, there are various ways to deal with the situation. “For one, you can just ignore the sites. This is another form of trolling – you feed them by paying attention to them. In HIV-related advocacy efforts, there is a saying: ‘Unless I sleep with you, my status is none of your business.’ This is (somewhat) apt here,” he said.
One of the publication’s past interviewees (who was included in another such Website) claimed that his information was included by someone he refused to sleep with. “Shaming was the way to get back to this person, supposedly.”
Secondly, Tan said that there is a need to confront the stigmatization of people living with HIV (PLHIV). “In the past, the worse thing people can say about you is that you are gay or lesbian. Now that LGBT people are more tolerated, it’s one’s HIV status that is being used against a person. In both instances, they’re not helping anyone by promoting hatred.”
Yet another past Outrage Magazine interviewee claimed that such online information came from those who may have problems dealing with their HIV status themselves. “This is horizontal hostility in action,” Tan said, again stressing that this highlights “the need to confront the stigma and discrimination faced by PLHIVs.”
Thirdly, “we promote safer sex as a means to help curb the spread of HIV,” said Tan. This is because, “HIV-positive or negative, persons still have sexual contacts. The best thing we can do is just provide information to ensure that people take steps that will not put them at risk for infection.”
This is also why “we always encourage for people to get tested, for them to know their status.”
Another option may be to go after those who post the wrong information, though the Philippines admittedly has no protections against such cyberbullying. Also, somewhat unfortunately, PNAC’s 2011 advisory stressed that it “also recognizes independence of affected parties in seeking other appropriate, lawful redress of the situation.” And with majority of Filipinos unaware of mechanisms to go about dealing with situations like this, those who violate the law go unpunished.
“Trust not the sites. Wait for people to comfortably disclose their status. Learn more about HIV. Better yet, get tested yourself, so that – upon knowing your status – you will be able to take steps to look after yourself and the people around you,” Tan said.
To prevent future unlawful provision of HIV and AIDS information or services, the PNAC secretariat recommends review of R.A. 8504, specially its standards on information and education. Content producers, including those who intend to republish or utilize official data may seek further assistance from the following offices:
R.A. 8504, implementing rules and regulations, basic HIV and AIDS information, epidemiological data, and program reports are all available at the PNAC Website.